The Common Good

Bush's Calvin College Surprise

Sojomail - May 26, 2005

Quote of the Week » Meeting Saddam Hussein
Hearts & Minds » Jim Wallis: Bush's Calvin College surprise
Action Alert » Leave my child alone!
Politically Connect » God-talk in the GOP
Spiritual Practices » The promise and the promised land
Religion and Politics » John Bolton and the Right's Clintonesque wink at personal sin
Building a Movement » As we forgive our debtors
Boomerang » Readers write
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"I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns. I met him to try and bring about an end to sanctions, suffering and war, and on the second of the two occasions, I met him to try and persuade him to let Dr. Hans Blix and the United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country...."

- British Member of Parliament George Galloway, testifying before a U.S. Senate committee to refute charges of corruption in connection to the Iraq oil-for-food program.

Source: The Times (of London)


Bush's Calvin College surprise
by Jim Wallis

As I've traveled the country this spring - 82 events, 48 cities, and hundreds of media interviews since January - I've witnessed a new movement of moderate and progressive religious voices challenging the monologue of the Religious Right.

An extremely narrow and aggressively partisan expression of right-wing Republican religion has controlled the debate on faith and politics in the public square for years. But that is no longer true.

At packed book events around the country these days, I often make an announcement that elicits a tumultuous response: "The monologue of the Religious Right is finally over, and a new dialogue has begun!" Smiles light up the faces of thousands of people as they break out in thunderous applause.

That new dialogue was visible recently at Calvin College. Karl Rove, seeking a friendly venue for a commencement speech in Michigan, approached Calvin and offered President Bush as the speaker. The college, which had already invited Nicholas Wolterstorff of Yale to deliver the speech, hastily disinvited him and welcomed the president. But the White House apparently was not counting on the reaction of students and faculty. Rove expected the evangelical Christian college in the dependable "red" area of western Michigan to be a safe place. He was wrong.

The day the president was to speak, an ad featuring a letter signed by one-third of Calvin's faculty and staff ran in The Grand Rapids Press. Noting that "we seek open and honest dialogue about the Christian faith and how it is best expressed in the political sphere," the letter said that "we see conflicts between our understanding of what Christians are called to do and many of the policies of your administration."

The letter asserted that administration policies have "launched an unjust and unjustified war in Iraq," "taken actions that favor the wealthy of our society and burden the poor, " "harmed creation and have not promoted long-term stewardship of our natural environment," and "fostered intolerance and divisiveness and has often failed to listen to those with whom it disagrees." It concluded: "Our passion for these matters arises out of the Christian faith that we share with you. We ask you, Mr. President, to re-examine your policies in light of our God-given duty to pursue justice with mercy...." One faculty member told a reporter, "We are not Lynchburg. We are not right wing; we're not left wing. We think our faith trumps political ideology."

On commencement day, according to news reports, about a quarter of the 900 graduates wore "God is not a Republican or a Democrat" buttons pinned to their gowns.

The events at Calvin, along with the growing crowds at our events around the country, are visible signs that the Religious Right does not speak for all Christians, even all evangelical Christians. What I hear, from one end of this country to the other, is how tired we are of ideological religion and how hungry we are for prophetic faith. The students and faculty at Calvin College are the most recent sign of that hunger.

For a different kind of commencement address, listen to Jim Wallis' message to graduates of John Carroll University:

+ Listen to the streaming audio

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Get your tickets! Sojourners Benefit Concert - June 3, 2005!

A Gathering of Spirits: Sojourners Benefit Concert with Carrie Newcomer, hosted by Brian McLaren, will feature a special message from Jim Wallis.

Join us for an evening of music and dialogue that will help sustain Sojourners' vision and programs for the coming year! The concert will be Friday, June 3, at 7:30 p.m. at Cedar Ridge Community Church, located in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. A reception with Brian, Jim, and Carrie begins at 9:30 p.m.

For more information or to buy tickets, go to or call (800) 714-7474, ext. 235.


Leave my child alone!

In the small print of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act, there is a clause that requires public high schools to provide the names, addresses, and home phone numbers of their students to the military. Unless families know about and are able to opt out of this clause, their children's personal information will be provided to recruiters. Last week, military recruiting was suspended for a day as recruiters received a much-needed ethics training. This followed allegations that recruiters have used deceptive and intimidating tactics - in one case, threatening a potential enlistee with arrest for backing out when he had the legal right to do so. But who will provide an ethics training for our lawmakers?

Join Sojourners and our partner organization, Working Assets, in urging Congress to change this invasive clause, and in taking our own kids off military recruitment lists.

Working Assets has also provided an opportunity to take your own kids off of military recruitment lists, and to help spread the word by hosting house parties on June 1. Check out for more information.

+ Click here to take action!

Meet-ups for a Movement

More than 500 readers have signed up to host God's Politics meet-ups in their local communities. In response to this demand, Sojourners has produced a free study guide to enable you to use the book as a movement-building tool. The monologue of the Religious Right is over, and a new national dialogue has begun - start your own study group today!

+ Click here to host a God's Politics meet-up event

+ Click here to find a meet-up in your area


God-talk in the GOP
by David Domke and Kevin Coe

For some time now there has been a heated debate regarding whether Bush is different from other presidents in his religious rhetoric. Here's the answer: He is. What sets Bush apart is how much he talks about God and what he says when he does so.

In his inaugural and State of the Union addresses earlier this year, Bush referenced God 11 times. This came on the heels of 24 invocations of God in his first-term inaugural and State of the Union addresses. No other president since Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933 has mentioned God so often in these high-state settings.

The closest to Bush's average of 5.8 references per each of these addresses is Ronald Reagan, who averaged 5.3 in his comparable speeches. No one else is close. Jimmy Carter, considered as pious as they come among U.S. presidents, only had two God mentions in four addresses. Other also-rans in total God-talk were wartime presidents Franklin Roosevelt at 1.8 and Lyndon Johnson at 1.5 references per inaugural and State of the Union address.

Bush also talks about God differently than have most other modern presidents. Presidents since Roosevelt have commonly spoken as petitioners of God, seeking blessing, favor, and guidance. This president positions himself as a prophet, issuing declarations of divine desires for the nation and world. Among modern presidents, only Reagan has spoken in a similar manner - and he did so far less frequently than has Bush.

+ Read the full article


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The promise and the promised land
by Dewey Beegle

The remarkable fact about Romans 9's repeated reference to the promises to Abraham is that the concept of the promised land is ignored completely. In reinterpreting the promises, Paul focuses on the primary factors of faith, salvation, and blessing. While he did not make an explicit statement rejecting the idea of the promised land, it certainly is strongly implied that this phase of the promise became obsolete under the new covenant.

The same can be said for the author of the letter to the Hebrews. He contends that the risen Jesus, serving as high priest in the Most Holy Place in heaven, has made human priests and animal sacrifices unnecessary for the atonement of sins: "Jesus has been given priestly work which is superior to theirs, just as the covenant which he arranged between God and his people is a better one because it is based on promises of better things. If there had been nothing wrong with the first covenant, there would have been no need for a second one" (Hebrews 8:6-7). After quoting Jeremiah 31:31-34 as the promise of a new covenant, the author of Hebrews comments, "By speaking of a new covenant, God has made the first one old; and anything that becomes old and worn out will soon disappear" (8:13). The Jewish Christians addressed by Hebrews look forward to a new city, to the heavenly Jerusalem. Nowhere in the whole book does the author mention the promise of land as a valid aspect of the new covenant. This is equally true for the apostle Peter and for the book of Revelation.

Thus it is clear from a biblical point of view that the promise of land made to the early Hebrews and Israelites served its purpose in the past. The qualification "forever" was understood to mean "until the end of the age of the first covenant." The church fathers accepted this view and therefore they showed little interest in the prophecies about the land.

Yet a large segment of conservative Christianity contends today that the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. While claiming to be "Bible-believing" Christians, they ignore completely the New Testament rejection of the promised land as a legitimate aspect of new covenant.

+ Read the rest of this article in the June 5 edition of our scripture study and sermon preparation resource, Preaching the Word

+ Learn more about Preaching the Word and subscribe today!


by Charles Dickinson

If Christianity - without losing its soul - is yet to avoid losing touch with the world, it must constantly update itself by dialogue with all the intellectual currents of today. To this end, the author proposes a necessary two-way dialectic between theology and the world, an ongoing dialectic ultimately essential to both church and world. $25 hardcover. To order call (313) 624-9784. Dove Booksellers, 13904 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, Michigan, 48126.


John Bolton and the Right's Clintonesque wink at personal sin
by Sandra Dufield

Listening to John Bolton's supporters shift the focus to his experience and brilliance while ignoring his misconduct, I'm reminded of many Democrats' winks at Bill Clinton's personal transgressions and their attempts to keep attention focused on his intellect and leadership.

While we would all hope our best could render our wrongdoing benign, sometimes specific personal offenses are such elephants in the living room that no amount of spin or denial can push them out of view. With a vote to confirm Bolton's nomination as U.N. ambassador looming, Republicans feel assured they have the right guy for the job, confident he passes every test that counts. However, they overlook relational and behavioral aspects of the biblical values that so many of them claim to affirm.

If Republicans are confused about the characteristics a U.N. ambassador should have, they can go right to the book many claim to hold so dear. There they will find that a good leader should "be above reproach...temperate, sensible, respectable...not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome..." (1 Timothy 3).

The very passages that warn of societal dysfunction associated with sexual sin and thievery also warn against "all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander..." (Ephesians 4:17-32).

Supporters dismiss Bolton's propensity to abuse as occasional unprofessionalism and overzealousness. In their drive to place an uncompromising heavy hand in the United Nations who will "put U.S. interests first," they're willing to not only jeopardize American's integrity, honor, and reputation in the world, they're willing to conveniently pick and choose which moral precepts they will acknowledge and which ones they will not.

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As we forgive our debtors

The G8 has said that, when it meets this July, it will finally offer desperately needed debt cancellation to some of the world's poorest nations. But while the U.K. has been a leader in the push for 100% cancellation, there are serious concerns about the current British proposal, which would only cover countries' debt payments for 10 years (leaving 70% of the debt in place).

+ Read more about it in a concise briefing from the World Development Movement [PDF]

+ Take action with Sojourners to push the U.S. government to get 100% debt cancellation


"Living Faithfully in a Global Economy" with Barry Shelley and Michelle Tooley, September 16-18, 2005. Ministry of Money - money and faith retreats, pilgrimages to the Third World, and online resources.

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Readers write

Clara Blair writes from Arlington, Texas:

In response to your e-mail, I sent a letter to the editor of the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram. A friend e-mailed me this evening to let me know that my letter was published today. Thank you for your encouragement and inspiration. Keep up the good work.

Some honor
May 25, 2005

The government plans to double prescription drug co-payments, charge a new $250 health care enrollment fee for 2.2 million veterans, cut $351 million from veterans' nursing homes and $4 million from medical and prosthetic research.

That's how the Bush administration honors our troops on Memorial Day.

More than a million soldiers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9-11. A third of them have served more than once, according to the Pentagon. When they come home, they'll find a power structure long on talk about patriotism and honor but shamefully short on benefits for those who earned them.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is overloaded and underfunded. Even as we send more and more soldiers to war, we're becoming less attentive to their needs. We all want to support our troops. But what does that really mean in terms of policy and programs? Why is anyone surprised at the decline in enlistments?

This Memorial Day, whether we support this war or not, let's ask our legislators to focus on policies and programs that take care of our nation's troops and veterans.


With our easy online tool, it's not too late for you to write your own letter to the editor this Memorial Day. Even those of us who advocate nonviolence must recognize the humanity of those who, for many reasons, made the hard choice to join the armed forces. As we protest a war and an occupation that has claimed as many as 100,000 Iraqi civilians' lives, we must have compassion for the suffering experienced on all sides.

+ Call for justice for veterans with a letter to the editor


David Weingartner writes from Dayton, Ohio:

The real reason fewer than 40% of soldiers in the Iraq war seek treatment for PTSD is not so much the "stigma associated with the diagnosis," but rather our cultural preoccupation with off-the-chart male machismo ["What does it mean to support the troops?" SojoMail 5/18/2005]. Were we (as a society) truly more Christ-like, this would not be an issue, nor would we be involved in our present military occupation of Iraq. I would dare to say that, perhaps, 9-11 would have never happened.


Sarah Diligenti-Pickup writes from Bethesda, Maryland:

Thanks for the excellent review of the movie Crash ["Going to pieces," SojoMail 5/18/2005]. I personally thought it was the most overwhelming film I have seen in a long time, even more than Hotel Rwanda. As my 15-year-old son said on the way out of the cinema, "It is too bad it has been released now, because it will be forgotten by the time they nominate movies for the next Oscars."


Sherri Lyon writes from North Owasso, Oklahoma:

Doug Koopman writes in the 5/18/05 Boomerang that Sojourners needs to be more "thorough and balanced" by pointing out outrages committed by the progressive religious leaders just as Sojourners points out the ones committed by the conversatives. I must call him on that. The problem isn't that Sojourners isn't pointing out outrages by the Left, the problem is that nowhere but Sojourners are the outrages of the Right being reported. The mainstream media is sure not doing it and none of the other Christian media that I have access to is either. Why is Mr. Koopman not insisting that every one of those outlets be more "thorough and balanced?" If Mr. Koopman would demand accountability from the others like he's trying to ask of Sojourners, then maybe Sojourners would no longer have to shout to be heard. Thanks and keep up the good work!


Tim Orrell writes from Woodstock, Virginia:

I am grateful to Meghan Murphy for putting into words the struggle I have been having with Sojourners lately. In my life as an advocate, I have learned that to truly be a force for change one must understand your opponent's argument, be able to summarize their points, then help them see your point of view with great passion and compassion. A useful debate need not become sarcastic or vitriolic. I would suppose the thinking readers of SojoMail and supporters of Sojourners are generally independent-minded folks who are not persuaded by sardonic attacks from either side. Thank you, Ms. Murphy, for helping me with this insight.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Include your name, hometown, and state/province/country in a concise e-mail to: We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.


CORRECTION: In last week's "Quote of the Week," we incorrectly listed Andijan, where forces of the U.S.-backed government massacred hundreds of civilians, as the capital of Uzbekistan. The capital of Uzbekistan is Tashkent.

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